One of the more iconic Deadlands mechanics is its use of poker chips—something that survived through its Savage Worlds incarnation. The chips are very similar to the character points in Star Wars d6 in that they have two functions: first, to re-roll dice and add bonuses to them, and second, they’re traded in for XP as Bounty Points.
I already use poker chips as physical Fate Points, so the conversion from Fate Points to Fate Chips would go over fairly easy. I’m ditching Refresh to go more classic Deadlands here; feel free to tweak it. At the start of a session, characters blind-draw their chips from the Fate Pot, which is a bag with three colors of poker chips mixed up within it. Since my chip set is weird and small, I’d have to go with 10 Red chips, 20 Blue chips, and 40 Green chips (or alternately, buy a better poker chip set). Later on, PCs will also receive chips as XP rewards (or will draw more equal to their Refresh if that’s your style).
- Spent chips are put back in the pot.
- When a chip enters the pot, the GM draws one chip from the pot for their own use.
- You cannot make a re-roll when you went Bust on your effort—that is, if your total ended up a negative number, you can’t spent a chip to re-roll it, though you can still try to climb out of that hole by spending that chip to do something else (e.x., Invoke for a +2).
- Until spent, a PC retains all the chips they own—so it’s important to keep track of which colors you have, otherwise you’re getting Green/White ones back at the start of next session.
A chip’s color determines what you can do with it, slightly altering the existing FATE balance; the effects are listed below, though they also have secondary effects/abilities depending on certain Stunts or spells a character might have.
- Green Chips are the most common. Spending one and Invoking/Tagging an Aspect allows you to add +2 to one roll or make a re-roll. They can also be spent to power Stunts and spells. That’s it.
- Blue Chips are slightly less common. They have all the functions of Green chips, but can also be spent to add to your roll: roll another d6 and add it to your total, treating it like another + (positive) die.
- Red Chips are hard to find, but not the rarest of them all. They can be spent to do anything a Green or Blue chip can do, and spending a Red chip doesn’t let the GM to draw a chip from the pot. You can also spend one to make a Declaration.
(Deadlands veterans, keep in mind, this is with my non-standard poker chip set; normally it’s with 50 white, 25 red, and 10 blue chips in that hierarchy. Since my set has no white chips, I had to change that.)
It alters the FATE dynamic a bit; part of that is to retain the Deadlands flavor and part of it is to structure the game more towards horror. Declarations were pushed up because of the horror factor; letting the PCs dictate the world can negate a whole heap of the tension, and I think it has more potential power than the additional +d6.
Having the chips provide different effects can be confusing, since it’s adding in another variable to keep track off. Keep in mind the different colors’ effects when you’re handing out Compels (for the GM) or paying off Compels and other abilities (as players). Starting off a Compel with a Red chip might be enough of an incentive to accept it, where in another situation that character would hold out for two Green and a Blue.
Fate Chips in Classic Deadlands could also be used to heal wounds; the system in Fate works differently, where the stress tracks are more like hit points in D&D (stamina, fatigue, luck, and other likelihood to get hit) or Wind in Classic Deadlands; e.g., damage that clears up after combat’s done, while Consequences are the real sticking wounds. If you want to carry that over, you could use a guide very similar to this one:
- Green Chips can be spent to take a Minor (-2) Consequence.
- Blue Chips can be spent to take a Major (-4) Consequence.
- Red Chips can be spent to take a Severe (-6) Consequence.
So, they’re pulling double-duty as Fate Points and health if need be. And that’s before we even get into…
Rewards and Bounty Points
Chips are are also awarded as a way to track XP. They’re handed out for defeating Extras, excellent roleplaying, creative thinking, proactive self-direction, making a cool Maneuver, and results of in-game events with more complexity than “I rolled a die really high.”
- Green Chips show up for being amusing or clever in game, doing something impressive or creative, or for having one of your Aspects/Consequences make life inconvenient in a new and creative way (e.g., as a self-compel, or taking a GM-based compel in a more interesting/complex direction).
- Blue Chips are gained from doing something incredibly witty, when you find an important piece of info, or when you overcome a minor obstacle. They are also awarded to characters who work their Aspects in ways that awe everyone at the table.
- Red Chips are rewarded for excellent roleplaying (staying true to character even when it might cost you your life), when you find a critical piece of info, and when you defeat a major hazard.
And after you’ve received chips, you can spend them as FATE points, or they can be handed in to become Bounty Points to increase your abilities, replacing whatever existing FATE rules you’d otherwise be using for advancement. (You can keep the skill pyramid requirements if you wish, but I think there’s enough restrictions on growth here already, so I wouldn’t restrict to the pyramid after character creation.) When spending these, don’t forget, you’re exchanging of the very same Fate Points that keep you alive. Don’t spend all of them in one place.
- Green Chips are worth 1 skill point. Thus, buying Drive at +1 costs one Green Chip; to raise your Guts from +3 to +4, you’d need to hand in four Green Chips. That’s not as hard as you’d think.
- Blue Chips are worth 2 skill points. Or, they can be spent to buy a new Stunt, provided you meet its requirements; don’t forget, each Stunt lowers your Refresh rate by +1.
- Red Chips are worth 3 skill points. Or, they can be spent to gain a new Aspect; don’t forget, each Aspect raises your Refresh rate by +1.
Chips of Legend
There’s also two “special” colored chips which only go into the pot due to in-game events, and have major abilities. As in, these shouldn’t be handed out like candy; that said, don’t be too stingy with either. If your players keep doing horrible acts, you might need to buy more Black chips—FATE has mechanics designed to complicating the situation, and that’s just what Black chips do. If the players are pulling off some epic stuff in-game, and are having some trouble carrying on, toss in a Legend chip or two to sweeten the pot—maybe someone’ll get lucky and pull one right before they need it.
- Black Chips are put in the pot any time the players raise the area’s Fear Level (more on that later) or otherwise do something evil and stupid that makes fortune frown. Black chips can sit around in the pot to haunt a party for weeks; when one gets drawn from the pot, fortune finally catches up. The black chip is removed, so whoever drew it is now down a chip—tough luck. Every person in the party gains a purely negative Aspect of their choice related to whatever event caused the black chip to enter the pot. Worse, the chip escalates all Compels related to that Aspect—compels start at two Fate points instead of the usual one. Bad luck is always stronger than good luck.
- Legend Chips are gained from doing something good and noble, lowering the Fear Level, and/or reaching the end of a campaign arc. They can be put into the Fate Pot or given to a specific character as a reward. Legend chips can be spent to do anything any other chip can do: Tag/Invoke for a +2 bonus or re-roll, make a Declaration, power a Stunt, act as a Severe (-6) Consequence, and to add another +d6. Legend chips can also be spent to put a temporary Aspect on a player character; they can be used to re-roll even on a roll that went Bust; and they can be spent to remove either all of one character’s Consequences or all the damage on their stress tracks. And spending a Legend chip doesn’t allow the GM to draw from the pot. Needless to say, these are valuable and incredibly rare.
In Deadlands, proper reward balancing is an art—much like in FATE, where you have to balance compels with the PCs’ expenditure rate. The burden is placed on the GM to make sure the characters have the resources to survive, but also allowing them to raise their stats without worrying about needing those chips to live in another hour. Not everyone likes the balance of using your XP to keep you alive in a given session, because that balance is hard to attain, especially if the GM isn’t dealing them out properly. I like the system because it makes the choice—spend it now as a Fate Point to live, save it for later to get better stats—that much more interesting.
If you think it’s too hard on players—pitch it.
But resource allocation is a staple of any horror game, so I’d recommend trying it out at least; by wearing the GM hat you can always start giving more rewards, or scale down challenges, if they’re having more trouble than you want them to have.